The striped bass, or "striper," one of the most avidly pursued of all coastal sport fish, is native to most of the East Coast, ranging from the lower St. Lawrence River in Canada to Northern Florida, and along portions of the Gulf of Mexico. The striped bass has been prized in Massachusetts since colonial times. In 1670, Plymouth Colony established a free school with income from coastal striped bass fisheries. Thus, one of the first public schools in America was supported by this highly valued resource. The unique angling qualities of this trophy species and its adaptability to fresh water environments have led to a major North American range expansion within the last 100 years. A valuable fishery has been created on the West Coast and inland fisheries have been developed in 31 states by stocking the striped bass into lakes and reservoirs.
Several characteristics distinguished the striper from other fish found in coastal Massachusetts waters. The striped bass has a large mouth, with jaws extending backward to below the eye. It has two prominent spines on the gill covers. The first (most anterior) of its two well-developed and separated dorsal fins possesses a series of sharp, stiffened spines. The anal fin, with its three sharp spines, is about as long as the posterior dorsal fin. The striper's upper body is blueish to dark olive, and its sides and belly are silvery. Seven or eight narrow stripes extending lengthwise from the back of the head to the base of the tail form the most easily recognized characteristic of this species.
Striped bass can live up to 40 years and can reach weights greater than 100 pounds, although individuals larger than 50 pounds are rare. The all-tackle angling record fish, taken in New Jersey in 1972, weighed 78 ½ pounds and measured 72 inches long. The Massachusetts record of 73 pounds has been equaled on three occasions, the most recent of which was at Nauset Beach in 1981. The following table lists average lengths and weights of striped bass at selected ages; the fish were collected in the Chesapeake Bay and Albermarle Sound (North Carolina) regions.